With thousands of Prince George’s County students back in the classroom, the school district continues to grapple with a bus driver shortage that has left parents and students frustrated.

There are over 200 unfilled bus driver positions in the school system, according to Prince George’s County Public Schools — about 10 percent of the district’s bus driver positions.

As a result, some PGCPS students experience bus delays of more than 30 minutes. Or in some cases, they experience buses not arriving at all.

Jackie Nardelli, the mother of a first-grade PGCPS student, expressed her dissatisfaction with buses in the county, adding parents frequently work together to find alternative transportation arrangements.

“When the bus doesn’t come or when the bus isn’t here by the time they are supposed to be in their seat at school, we load up both cars and take kids to school,” Nardelli said.

Nardelli said her daughter’s bus consistently arrived late last year as well. Some students sat three to a seat, while others resorted to lying on the floor, she added.

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PGCPS parents have also complained about a lack of communication from the PGCPS transportation department. When Nardelli attempted to contact the department, the office left her on hold for more than 40 minutes and she did not receive a response.

PGCPS issued a statement on their website acknowledging the long wait times, stating they are experiencing a “high volume of inquiries.”

Some in the county blame the shortages on low bus driver pay in the school system.

Martin Diggs, the president of the ACE-AFSCME Local 2250, which represents over 5,000 support staff members in PGCPS, emphasized that the county currently pays bus drivers through a prorated system established in the World War II era.

“The livable wage needs to be increased,” Diggs said. “It’s important if you can live and work in the same county.”

Currently, PGCPS bus drivers’ starting wage is $20.32 per hour. According to the MIT Living Wage Calculator, the livable wage for someone living by themselves in Prince George’s County is $22.31 per hour — almost 10% higher than the compensation PGCPS currently offers bus drivers.

Neighboring school systems such as Howard County Public Schools tried to handle the nationwide issue by offering attractive initiatives for bus drivers.

Howard County offers a $500 bonus to drivers with perfect attendance in a month and an $8,000 signing bonus for new drivers.

While PGCPS school board chair Judy Mickens-Murray acknowledged bus driver shortages are a statewide issue, she said PGCPS is disproportionately affected by the issue.

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Diggs offered other solutions, which he believes will alleviate the strain on students, parents and bus drivers as PGCPS continues to struggle with transportation issues.

The district’s current bus routing system fails to account for stop and wait times, resulting in parents left in the dark regarding the precise arrival and departure times of school buses, Diggs noted.

Diggs proposed improving the system by adding these metrics to better predict arrival and departure times.

Diggs said ACE-AFSCME Local 2250 is actively collaborating with new PGCPS superintendent Millard House II to address the bus shortage problem quickly.

“[The bus driver shortage] has not really gotten better,” Diggs said. “But we are here to show what the county looks like and how we can make it better.”

Mickens-Murray said she also remains optimistic about finding a solution moving forward.

“The superintendent and his team are working on some fixes that they will share with us,” Mickens-Murray said. “Give him an opportunity to work with his team and bring back to the board how they are going to reduce uncertainties.”